Ex-Oakland star Kendrick Nunn vows to return stronger after hitting rookie wall with Heat

Ira Winderman
Sun Sentinel

At 24, Kendrick Nunn is not your typical rookie. This initial season with the Miami Heat was preceded by a full season in the G League, one at Oakland University and three at Illinois.

Yet with all that experience, there has been nothing like this grueling first NBA ride.

It is why, even now, while at rest amid the league’s shutdown, Nunn appreciates more is needed when it comes to preparations for future seasons.

Heat guard Kendrick Nunn was averaging 15.6 points per game before the NBA season was suspended.

“One thing that I want to improve on going into my second season is how I maintain my body, to be able to be prepared for that full season,” he said during a video appearance on the NBA’s Twitter feed.

Despite missing three games in late January due to an Achilles issue, Nunn has appeared in 62 this season, all starts, as part of the push to the 41-24 record held by the Heat when the coronavirus outbreak put play on hold on March 11.

“There was a time in this season where I felt my body had hit a wall,” he said, “and that’s just because I wasn’t used to playing that many games.”

As a matter of perspective, Nunn played 35, 33, 28 and 30 games in his four college seasons, before going undrafted in 2018. He then played 49 games for the Santa Cruz Warriors of the G League in 2018-19, before being signed by the Heat on the final day of that season.

“So going into my second season, I will definitely take more care of my body and maintenance, and be ready for the full season,” he said.

With this 2019-20 season assuredly to be shortened in order for the NBA to move to the playoffs when the league, if possible, resumes this summer, it won’t be until next season when the 6-foot-2 guard gets to experience a full NBA ride. And even then, with next season to start in December or later, it is possible 2020-21 also becomes truncated.

Because of the disjointed nature of his NBA indoctrination, Nunn said it made his season in the G League, with the Golden State Warriors’ affiliate, all the more essential — and rewarding.

“Spending one year in the G League helped me prepare for my role in the NBA in a tremendous way,” he said. “Just spending that one full year in the G League and getting familiar with the professional level of basketball helped me prepare for a starting role with the Miami Heat.”

Just as the Heat promote the impact that time with their G League affiliate, the Sioux Falls Skyforce, has had with the likes of former Wolverine Duncan Robinson and Derrick Jones Jr., Nunn cited one particular benefit of his G League tour.

“One specifically that I noticed is my pace on the offensive end, with the ball in my hands coming off screen and rolls and things like that,” he said, “being able to make plays and making the right reads off pick and rolls.”

While answering Twitter questions, Nunn revealed his ultimate rookie challenge.

“The toughest player I’ve had to guard in the league was Kemba Walker,” he said of the Boston Celtics guard he could face in the postseason.

He also said he spent his idle Sundays like most in the league, with the Chicago native tuned into ESPN’s Michael Jordan documentary, "The Last Dance."

“It gave me and the rest of the world that didn’t get to experience the Jordan era, it let us know how it was back then,” he said.